Ten years On – The Indian Ocean Tsunami Response

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Ten years on, the Indian Ocean Tsunami response reveals how people in crises can be helped by timely funding, says Oxfam

The unprecedented generosity to help people hit by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 saved lives and gave affected people the means to make a genuine long-term recovery, says international aid agency Oxfam.

A new Oxfam report, The Indian Ocean Tsunami, 10 Years On, says the tsunami was a pivotal moment for the international humanitarian sector, which learned lessons and emerged strengthened as a result – even while important challenges to it still remain.

The tsunami killed 230,000 people and left 1.7 million homeless on December 26, 2004. Around 5 million people were affected across 14 countries.

The international community raised $13.5 billion, up to 40 per cent by individuals, trusts, foundations and business. It remains the world’s highest-ever privately-funded crisis response. Oxfam received $294 million, 90 per cent of that coming from private donors in the first month. Oxfam Canada received over $6 million in donations.

The response of the Canadian public was overwhelming,” said Anthony Scoggins, Oxfam Canada’s Director of International Programs. “Staff and volunteers came back in over the holidays to re-open offices, answer calls and receive donations. Our phones were ringing off the hook, children were emptying out their piggy banks on our desks and teenagers were dropping their Christmas money into a Tsunami bucket we had placed by the door. Communities across the country began organizing fundraisers. It was entirely spontaneous and quite remarkable.”

Between 2004 and 2009, Oxfam and its partners helped around 2.5 million people giving shelter, blankets and clean water to more than 40,000 people in the immediate aftermath. Oxfam also helped build or improve nearly 11,000 wells, and a municipal water system in Aceh that local volunteers are still running successfully today.

Oxfam hired 960,000 people in Somalia and Sri Lanka to do clean-up and construction work, including building docks and repairing schools in Indonesia and Myanmar. Children were back to school within six months in all 14 tsunami-hit countries.

What was achieved in the humanitarian response to the Tsunami would not have been possible without the solidarity and generosity of people around the world,” said Oxfam International Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima. “Hundreds of thousands of people have been able to rebuild their lives with dignity."   

While the huge outpouring of donations was vital to save lives and rebuild livelihoods, adequate responses to humanitarian crises remain a rarity today. Over the past decade, international funding has consistently failed to meet one-third of the humanitarian need outlined in UN appeals.

“What happened in the aftermath of the Tsunami was certainly unprecedented,” said Ann Witteveen, Oxfam Canada’s Humanitarian Manager. “But it’s tragic that it takes such a cataclysmic, or sensational event to galvanize people to help others. There are many disasters right now that are causing immense suffering – Ebola, the conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and so on.”

According to the Oxfam report, factors other than humanitarian need – such as strategic geopolitical and economic factors, international pressure and media coverage – heavily influence government donors. Private donors are often influenced, as in the tsunami, by the type of emergency involved, ability to identify with the affected people, and by a sense that donations will make a difference.

One of the most important lessons from the tsunami was the need for more investment in reducing the risk of future disasters. Another significant lesson was the absence of an early warning system that could have saved lives. A system has since been set up and was put to a successful test in the run up to an earthquake in 2012.

Notes to Editors:

Oxfam’s report, The Indian Ocean Tsunami, 10 Years On is available here:

For more information contact:
Katia Gianneschi


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